Friday, 26 April 2013

ECSTASY UPDATED

Skeptics have long questioned whether Bernini's great sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, is about a purely religious experience:

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) wrote of her dream that an angel thrust his fiery golden spear into her "to pierce my very entrails." When he finally withdrew after much thrusting, her heart was attached. The experience, she reported, was "not bodily, but spiritual."

Bernini's sculpture was commissioned by the Catholic church for the Cornaro Chapel in Rome.  Regardless of Bernini's motives, it certainly attracted the crowds.  For centuries, devout housewives  sat in the church thinking, "I'll have what she's having."


350 years after Bernini, Popes and kings no longer buy art.  They have been replaced by a new commercial class of patrons, fueled by the birth of capitalism and the ascendancy of the modern corporation.  But some things never change.  Whether church or refrigerator manufacturer, they still commission artists to sell their products with promises of ecstasy.

The great illustrator John Gannam had a gift for portraying women ecstatic over a gift of new blankets or sheets


Gannam's series of watercolors for Pacific Sheets was legendary.

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Albert Dorne's illustrations lacked Gannam's poetry, but Dorne too tried to illustrate women experiencing the highest form of satisfaction from a product: 



And of course, hundred of anonymous illustrators have depicted women over the years in a state of delirium over new refrigerators, cars, jewelry or laundry detergent.  The formula is the same as Bernini's-- head tilted back, lips parted, toes curled, eyes rolling -- it's just in the service of a different sponsor.


These latter day corybants seem to be in paroxysms before the unholy shrine of Wurlitzer:


As Paul was awestruck by a flash of heavenly light on the road to Damascus, so this gentlemen seems awestruck-- his mouth agape and his eyes bulging-- at the glow from the juke box:


A lot of things have changed in the field of illustration over the centuries, but some things remain immutable.  No matter who the client or what the product, an illustrator who can harness ecstasy in the service of a client will always find work.